Implementing the Forest Rights Act: lack of political will?
Historically, usage and access of forest resources by India’s Adivasi community and other forest dwellers have been considered as encroachment and their efforts of forest land acquisition have been used as evidence of their anti-development attitude. Government policy has continued to deny them legal rights to use, manage and conserve forest resources and to hold forest lands that they have been residing on and cultivating. In 2006, the passage of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dweller’s (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (hereafter FRA) tried to make amends by recognising customary rights of forest dwellers, including the right over common areas and the right to manage and sell forest produce. However, the overall implementation of FRA still suffers from inadequate community awareness, conflicting legislations, lack of dedicated structure for implementation and devoted staff, administrative roadblocks to smooth processing of claims, and governance deficit. Reportedly, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) is now pushing for a set of new rules that will dilute FRA and limit powers of the Gram Sabhas, despite the objections raised by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA).